COEYMANS — Stricter environmental regulations will soon take effect in town after officials adopted its Clean Air Law on Thursday in a split vote.
Officials first proposed the law July 26, 2018, in response to Mustang Renewable Power Ventures’ proposal, which came to light in December 2017, to import 116,000 tons of solid waste from 70 Connecticut towns each year and burn it in a kiln at the Lafarge-Holcim cement plant on Route 9W.
The board voted on the law at its regular meeting Thursday — 14 months after it was first drafted — in a 3-2 vote to adopt the resolution.
Coeymans Town Supervisor Philip Crandall and councilmen James Youmans and Thomas Dolan voted in favor of the law. Councilmen Daniel Baker and Kenneth Burns voted against the measure. The law will go into effect immediately after it’s filed with the state Department of State.
Lafarge received a permit in 2006 from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to burn tires at its Ravena facility to turn them into tire-derived fuel, Lafarge plant manager Dave Fletcher said in January.
Lafarge did not give the town the permit after many requests for a copy, Crandall said after Thursday’s meeting.
“And he [Fletcher] would never put it in writing that they would not burn garbage in our town,” Crandall added.
Lafarge’s permit to burn tires expired Sept. 12, 2015, but the plant is allowed to operate under the 2006 permit’s conditions because the company submitted an application to renew it before the state’s deadline, according to a statement Friday from DEC officials.
“DEC is conducting a rigorous review of the permit renewal application and overseeing the plant’s transition to a new kiln to ensure the facility is in compliance with the state’s stringent air quality standards,” according to the statement from the DEC.THE VOTE
Local Law No. 1 of 2019, or the Clean Air Law, prohibits town waste disposal facilities from processing more than 25 tons of waste in 24 hours. To process waste, the law requires a facility to have a Continuous Emission Monitoring System to monitor the emissions of 19 pollutants. The data from the system must be published online in real time, according to the law.
Before voting Thursday, the board unanimously reviewed and authorized the state’s environmental assessments, concluding the law would not have a negative impact on the environment.
Baker, who voted against the measure, felt the vote was premature.
“It was just rushed,” he said. “It wasn’t the right time — we could have done more work. I went and toured the plant and ... they have state-of-the-art equipment up there. I think there could have been more of a mutual agreement.”
Burns said he wished the town could have held a community information session with Lafarge Plant Manager David Fletcher to see his presentation about tire-burning before voting on the law.
“I think it would change your mind about how you think about burning tires,” Burns said. “Personally, I’m just not comfortable voting for this right now until I have more information. I have really tried to listen to both sides of this whole thing and both sides have kind of failed in presenting factual data information on the way this thing should go.”
The board spent a long time looking into the parameters and facts behind the Clean Air Law, Dolan said.
“I want to thank everyone who came out and voiced their opinion whether you agree with me or disagree with me,” Dolan said. “Sometimes, reasonable people can just disagree about something, and that’s the case here.”
The town’s Clean Air Law requirements for emissions are not as aggressive as the EPA’s or DEC’s, Fletcher said, and will not affect the cement plant’s emissions.
“We have the lowest in the country for emissions,” he said. “Our limits are going to be the same. The difficulty with this is the limit of 25 tons a day, which is more than an hour’s worth, but less than a day’s.”
There’s a big difference between an incinerator and a cement kiln, Fletcher said, adding it’s not fair to compare their emissions because incinerators don’t make a product.
Fletcher was disappointed by the board’s decision.
“We would have liked to have seen the vote either postponed to allow more time for discussion and information,” Fletcher said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a specific category for tire-derived fuel, which can be used in most kilns around the nation, Fletcher said.
“I think it’s unfortunate that it seemed people quickly dug in on an emotional issue rather than the science of it all.
“We have to go back and think about things and decide on our future path.”
Youmans feels he did the right thing by voting for the law.
“I feel like that was the overwhelming majority of people I listened to wanted me to do,” he said.
Crandall said he made the right decision for the town.
“I acted on my moral compass, whether I get re-elected or not,” he said. “I feel I did what’s right for the common good and not just for this town, but the surrounding towns.”THE PUBLIC’S FINAL SAY
Before the vote, Thursday’s meeting opened with a public comment period.
Carver Laraway, who owns the Port of Coeymans and Carver Companies, was first to address the board.
“For the last eight years, we seem like we’ve turned a corner to bring business back in our community,” Laraway said. “We’re all about clean air — everybody is. ... I’m definitely pro-business as everyone knows. I’m for Coeymans 150 percent.”
Laraway thanked Lafarge for spending over $400 million to modernize its Ravena plant to reduce its emissions.
“We’re urging the board to really reconsider and think about what you’re voting on,” he said. “We’re a pro-buisness community. That’s what we’re all about. We’d really just appreciate you to think twice.”
Matt Miller, a Selkirk resident and science teacher at Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk High School, said Lafarge is an important business in the community, but many pollutants come out of making cement.
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“As you start talking about burning tires and other materials, you have to start considering, what is the cost of that profit?” he said. “To me, the cost of things like burning tires and waste is simply too much additional pollution in the air for our most vulnerable residents to breathe.
The bill strikes a good balance, Miller said, adding that requiring the monitoring system will let state and local officials see how significant the pollution is.
“And then down the line, maybe you can increase that number if you see the new scrubbers are proving to keep some of the pollution out of the air,” he said. “It still allows Lafarge to bring in a new fuel and burn up to 25 tons a day — that’s 50,000 pounds of tires a day. Because the additional pollution is simply too much for our kids, I urge you guys to pass that law. It strikes a balance between the health of the community and businesses being able to do what they need to do.”
In February, the Albany County Planning Board recommended the town notify the adjacent towns of Bethlehem, Westerlo and New Baltimore about the local law, as well as multiple state agencies. Coeymans notified all adjacent towns and agencies before its March 14 meeting.
“We look forward to their responses and will do our best to keep the residents informed,” Crandall said in his March 13 supervisor’s report.
Keith Mahler, of Ravena, suggested the board meet with village of Ravena officials to get their input on the law, in addition to responses from the other municipalities that were notified this month.
“I just don’t understand,” he said. “Before you pass this Clean Air Law, wait and see how other municipalities responded and are they in favor? I highly suggest you listen to the public who elected you. Listen to them and gather the thoughts of other surrounding communities before you become a lead agency in something that could cripple your community.”
At the March 14 meeting, several people who are not Coeymans residents gave their opinions on the Clean Air Law, including three from Rensselaer County and a woman from Canaan in Columbia County. Some Coeymans residents responded the board should not consider the opinions of people from outside the town.
After the March 14 meeting, Jeff LaQuire, of Coeymans, and a few other residents formed the Friends of Coeymans in response to the Clean Air Law, including a Friends of Coeymans Facebook page.
Over the last two weeks, the group circulated a petition around town to persuade officials to slow down and do more research before passing the law. More than 300 people who live and work in Coeymans signed the document, said LaQuire, who submitted it to the board after speaking at Thursday’s meeting.
“What we’re saying is to slow down,” LaQuire said. “Do your due diligence. If Lafarge wanted to burn tires today, they couldn’t — they don’t have the infrastructure. Why are we rushing this law? You don’t have science, you don’t have facts. This is a political ploy.
“I’m not a Republican and I’m not a Democrat. I’m not pro-Lafarge, I’m not pro-Carver and I’m not pro-environmentalist,” he added. “I’m a Friend of Coeymans and I’m going to make sure you don’t get re-elected.”
After the meeting, LaQuire said many constituents weren’t informed about the law, and it’s unfortunate the board isn’t listening to them.
“They’re supposed to represent us,” he said. “All we’re asking is for them to slow down. In my opinion, they did what they wanted to do and they shouldn’t be in office.”
Gary Bogardus worked at Lafarge for 43 years and said the law’s 25-ton cap in a 24-hour period won’t run the plant from that kiln for more than an hour.
“When we had two kilns, it took 26 tons an hour from each kiln and this is supposed to produce more than both of those kilns,” Bogardus said. “They put that in there to give you a snow job.”
Bill Tryon, of Coeymans, said he found an old Ravena News-Herald article when Gov. Nelson Rockefeller visited Coeymans to celebrate the opening of the Blue Circle Cement Plant. Lafarge purchased Blue Circle in 2001.
“This whole community was celebrating that Blue Circle Cement was going to be built because they realized if we had industry we would have jobs and a future,” Tryon said. “And with that, there’s a little downside: You’re going to have a little dust and a couple of trucks.”
Tryon argued that people who want a pristine environment with no pollutants shouldn’t drive their cars home and should put their refrigerators on the curb for garbage.
“What percentage is safe enough? What environmental pollutants are safe enough?” he said. “It’s never going to be the way it was when [Henry] Hudson came up that river. It’s never going to go back to that. Laws are control and it’s a shame because, eventually, enough laws and we don’t become citizens, we become subjects. If we drive out the industry, our taxes will double. Let the EPA, the DEC and other agencies that have made a business out of it, who know what to do, put their input in.”